quick pick(le)s

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When I was a kid we would trek from our home in central Massachusetts to my grandparent’s house just beyond the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, and the only thing that made those long rides (that my dad insisted on making in the dead of night) bearable were our pitstops at Rein’s Deli in Vernon, Connecticut.

This small slice of New York City off of highway 84 is packed at any given hour, and serves Jewish deli classics that are at the foundation of both my love of food and the size of my hips.  It is also where I had my first pickle. A mouth puckering, salty, crunchy, half sour gem.
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Half sour pickles are not as ubiquitous as their kosher dill brethren, but they are in my opinion, superior.  Whether on their own as a snack or as a sandwich companion, it doesn’t matter. With a kick from the whole peppercorns, a touch of dill, and a hefty amount of salt, these are impossibly easy to make.  I have a hard time not eating the whole jar in one sitting…but that’s just me.

These may not be exactly like Rein’s, but they can certainly satisfy my cravings in between trips through Connecticut.

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quick pick(le)s

6-8 pickling cucumbers (any of the thin skinned, mostly seedless varietals will do)
4 cups water
1/4 cup kosher sea salt
1/3 cup white distilled vinegar
1/4 tablespoon white peppercorns
1/4 tablespoon mustard seeds
1/4 tablespoon coriander seeds
a fistful of dill (this amount should really be based on your preference)

  1. Combine the water, salt, and vinegar in a pot and bring to a boil until salt is fully dissolved.  Let mixture cool, then stir in the spices and dill.
  2. Slice cucumbers down the middle or into spears, and pack into a mason jar (or an old pickle jar–waste not want not).  When you have packed half the jar, pour in some of the cool pickling liquid.  Fill the rest of the jar with cucumbers, so there is little or no space between them.  Pour the rest of the pickling liquid in leaving about a quarter inch of space at the top of the jar (you may have excess liquid.  If so, fish out the spices and add them to the jar and discard the liquid).
  3. Place in fridge for 24 hours, shaking the jar occasionally. Pickles will last up to 3 weeks.
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quick pick(le)s

spaetzle: 2 ways

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My mother is a great cook.  When I was younger I don’t think I realized how well we ate—the woman made everything from lasagna to chicken pot pie to brisket—and we even got pizza thrown in there every now and again (read: most Friday nights).  I finally caught on to her skill and tried to learn from her by studying her methods and recipes, but turns out that wasn’t as simple as it seems because everything is “ungefähr”.

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 Ungefähr (unga-fare) is German for “approximately”.  Which is to say, my mother cooks without strict guidelines and often without measures.  A classic tactic of the last generation making it hard for us to learn their tricks.

Enter my mother’s mother’s spaetzle (it’s pronounced a variety of ways…but I think you’re catching on to my German heritage).  This is a dish that in all my years had never been made for me, but had been discussed at length.  It is a simple mix of egg, flour, and water to create a quick dumpling dough.  In my knowledge of spaetzle they are often extruded and take on a thin elongated shape; but not my mother’s mother’s. Atypical to a T.

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I watched her bring together the dough just based on her memory of what it should look and feel like.  Then I watched her take heaping scoops and drop them in boiling salted water, creating dough puffs that floated to the surface when cooked.  Their texture was something at the intersection of matzoh balls and gnocchi; light but chewy and terribly addictive.

We ate them 2 ways. My mother had made a bone broth from beef rib bones that was in itself life altering, but together with the dumpling nuggets we’d made it was on another level.  I used some reserved dough to create the spaetzle I had been envisioning, still irregularly shaped but smaller and once boiled I sautéed them with butter and sage until they were a bit crisp on the edges.  It’s amazing how the simplest things can sometimes leave the largest impressions.

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I am slightly irritated it took this long for my mother to share this non-recipe recipe.  But now that I know how it looks and feels and tastes, I am sure I could find a way to throw it together—ungefähr.

*Shout out to Dad—also a cook in his own right: highly proficient in all things breakfast.

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(ungefähr) spaetzle
makes 4-6 servings of spaetzle

1 cup (ish) all purpose flour
1/2 cup water (+1/2 cup extra set aside just in case)
1 large egg
1/2 tsp salt

  1. Lightly beat the egg at the bottom of a large bowl.  Add flour, salt, and half a cup of water and mix together until combined.  You want the dough to feel elastic and a bit sticky, so if need be add more water to get a consistency that can be scooped easily (remember, this is a haphazard recipe so trust your gut).
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add a good amount of salt to the water (about a tablespoon).  Using a teaspoon, dollop a spoonfuls of dough into the water.  If going for bigger dumplings, fill the spoon with dough.  If aiming for the skinnier bite-size nuggets, take a small amount on the edge of spoon and coax it off into the water. You can do this in batches.
  3. Once the dough puffs and rises to the water’s surface, use a slotted spoon to transfer them either directly into waiting bone broth preferably littered with bits of cooked carrots and onions for some depth (mom’s way) or into a pan that contains melted, salty butter with a couple of sage leaves floating around (my way). If you’re going for the buttery version, sauté the spaetzle in the butter until the edges have a touch of crispy brownness.
  4. Either version would be heightened with a dusting of grated parmesan cheese and a little sea salt.
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she’s still got it.
spaetzle: 2 ways

winter grain bowls

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Finding creative ways to incorporate vegetables into your diet can be tricky, particularly during the colder months when we crave hibernation food.  This is answer. It’s warm. It’s got grains that can trick your mind into thinking you’re having pasta. It has cheese.

Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely love vegetables.  It’s just that sometimes the small child inside that fought so hard against the tyranny of peas before cookies and greens before mac and cheese makes me think I don’t want to eat them. So I am often in search of ways to want to eat my vegetables; for preparations that make me excited about them.  This is one of those, I promise.

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The prep is a bit intensive if you don’t have a food processor.  Hand shredding, chopping, and dicing can give you a touch of the carpal tunnel. Take breaks! Drink some wine while you practice those knife skills (or while you watch your food processor whir). But I did and survived, and lived to tell the tale.  Luckily this keeps really well, it is definitely a dish that can be made on a Sunday and eaten throughout the week.

So whether you love eating vegetables or have to force them upon yourself, this will stick to your ribs the way a good winter meal should.

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Winter grain bowl
Serves 4-6

2 links chicken sausage, cooked (optional)
1 cup quinoa
1/2 cup farro
2 shallots, diced
1 large sweet potato, shredded
2 medium carrots, shredded
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 ½ cups shredded brussel sprouts
1 ½ cups cooked, chopped spinach
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp thyme
1 tsp sage
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cook quinoa and farro together in a pot, and set aside to cool. Remove casings from chicken sausage (if using), cook and set aside.
  1. Sautee shallots, sweet potato, carrots, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts over medium heat. Once all the vegetables have softened, add spinach, garlic, sage, and thyme; and salt and pepper to taste. Cook together for 5-7 more minutes.
  1. Turn heat to low, and add back in sausage, feta, and cooked quinoa and faro; mix everything together. Taste to see if you want more salt and pepper. Dole out in bowls and top with a drizzle of olive oil. (Also highly recommended: top with sliced or mashed avocado).
winter grain bowls

apple salad with hazelnuts, pancetta, shallots, and roasted parsnips

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Now that it’s October in the Northeast, we are deep into pumpkin spice season (even though maple is the new pumpkin spice, and I will keep saying it until everyone listens).  But neither pumpkin nor maple are the only fabulous flavor of this perfectly crisp couple months. We should be embracing the full bounty that fall affords us.

For example, if you haven’t tried every varietal of apple at your local farmers’ market yet, you’re doing fall wrong.  From Spencers (my personal favorite) to Honey Crisps to Macouns, each one has its own je ne sais quoi. Some are meant for pies, others for snacking; but no matter how you eat it the apple is one of the most defining tastes of autumn.  Throw them into any salad and their crunch and unique sweetness will transport you to an orchard on a cold day in soft flannel–and there are no crowds. And it’s sunny. Can you imagine.

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This salad may seem a bit busy…it has more than a handful of ingredients, but each one brings that extra something that gives it the capacity to be a stand alone meal.  Sweet apples, crunchy hazelnuts, salty pancetta, earthy parsnips, and a good bite from the raw shallots.  What’s so wrong with a salad chock full of tasty bits anyway? Nothing, because then you don’t have to force yourself to eat it.  You will want to eat it.

Time to get on the apple train. Sorry pumpkins (and maples).

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apple salad with hazelnuts, pancetta, shallots, and roasted parsnips
serves 6-8

2 large apples (of your favorite variety)
2 medium sized parsnips, cubed
1/2 pound of pancetta, cooked
1/3 cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped
1 medium sized shallot, sliced thin
shaved ricotta salata cheese to taste (cheddar or chevre would be equally tasty)

Suggested dressing
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon agave or honey
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Set your oven to 350 degrees. Peel the parsnips and cut them into bite size cubes, then toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Roast for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and soft. Let cool and set aside.
  2.  Fry the pancetta until crispy.  Place on paper towels to absorb the grease and to cool.  Once cooled, crumble and combine with parsnips.
  3. Chop up your hazelnuts.
  4.  Slice shallot and apple thinly. Add to big bowl of mixed greens.  Throw in hazelnuts, pancetta, and parsnips.  Add salad dressing and combine until everything is well coated.  Shave cheese of choice atop the salad and serve immediately.

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apple salad with hazelnuts, pancetta, shallots, and roasted parsnips

tomato toast

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Come late August, early September, tomatoes become an endangered species.  They are still around, but slowly starting to disappear, reminding you that soon enough the prominent real estate they’ve been holding will be relinquished to the apples and pumpkins of autumn.

But there is still time! Just a couple more weeks to soak up all the delicious sweet and savory tomatoeness.  And what better way to do that than by treating them with the utmost reverence?

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This is not fancy. Nor is it complex. In fact, it seems likely that a monkey could put this dish together.  But that doesn’t make it any less tasty.  A great recipe doesn’t always require that you have intensive skill in the kitchen, but should be something you may not have conceived of on your own.

The funny thing about how much I adore making this is that I used to be afraid of mayonnaise.  I loved it, I recognized its value and importance in my diet, but alas.  It irked me.  I couldn’t bring myself to use it.  Then someone made me tomato toast–and I was forever changed. I had to be able to make it for myself, because I was craving it constantly. It tasted like summer. So I faced my fears of mayonnaise. And I’ve never looked back.

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The moral of this slightly rambling story is that if you too love those late summer tomatoes (and herbs, the herbs in the mayo are important) and just want to savor them as long as possible, this is the dish for you.  Ridiculously easy and silly delicious, it is just the way to send these summer delights off in style.  Until next summer when they once again grace us with their abundance.

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Tomato Toast
serves 2

4 slices hearty, thick sliced multigrain bread
1/2 cup good mayonnaise (if you feel daring, make your own, I entrust you to the geniuses at serious eats for that)
1/2 teaspoon each of basil, chives, tarragon, and parsley, diced (or any combination there of that is to your liking)
A bunch of various colored tomatoes, in thick slices (since they come in all shapes and sizes, I leave it to you to determine how much is right. As these photos show, I tend to pile on as many as possible)
Salt and pepper to taste, extra chives for garnish

  1. Combine your herbs and mayo until well combined.
  2. Toast the breads, lightly.
  3. Smear the mayo, on the toasts.
  4. Arrange the tomato slices atop the toasts. Cover with salt, pepper, and extra chives. Eat immediately. Savor summer.
tomato toast

succotash & shrimps

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Like most kids, I was not always a huge fan of eating my vegetables.  I have vivid memories of crying shriveled peas that had to be consumed before I was allowed my dino-shaped chicken nuggets, and of stealthily hiding florets of browning boiled broccoli in my hands and then sneaking them into the trash can to gain access to the evenings offering of macaroni and cheese.  To my parents’ credit they did try to encourage healthy habits (a success for the most part; as adults my sisters and I are all still of the mind there must be a vegetable somewhere on the dinner table), but clearly I was a bit of a vegetable evasion MacGyver back then.

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But those days are behind me.  I have evolved.  I love vegetables now, particularly in the months of the year when I can get them fresh from farmers’ markets.  That has been the true difference.  That, and knowing that most vegetables can be utterly transformed into the part of the meal I am most eager to eat with the help of a little love and seasoning.  The shriveled, overcooked, and unseasoned veggies-0f-yore are long gone.  And good riddance.

This succotash is an ode to what a vegetable dish can and should be.  Simple, but tasty. Quick, but memorable.  In June corn is sweet and super affordable, and is as delicious raw as it is thrown on a grill.  Shelling peas would be a treat but frozen are just as effective.  And the zucchini are just starting to appear.  All sautéed together quickly in a hot pan of slightly browned butter et voilà, all former fears of vegetables are eradicated.  Alongside a little bit of lemon-drenched shrimp and you have a full meal.  Just add white wine.

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succotash & shrimps
serves 4

2 medium zucchini, diced
2 ears of corn, kernels removed from the cob
1/3 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup shelled peas
4 tablespoons butter
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
salt, pepper, and lemon to taste

  1. Dice the red onion and zucchini into bite size bits to match the corn kernels and the peas.  Over medium heat, melt the butter in a sauté pan until it just begins to brown (it will have a nutty smell and appear golden).  Immediately add the zucchini and onion and cook for 5 minutes or until they soften and begin to brown.  Add in the corn and peas and cook until just warm, about two minutes.  Season with salt and pepper then remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Pat shrimp dry (this will help them brown), and salt and pepper to taste on both sides.  Cook over medium-high heat with a bit of olive oil for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until they are just pink.  Turn heat to low and squeeze fresh lemon juice over the shrimp (the heat from the pan my cause some splatter).  Stir to coat all the shrimp and pick up the tasty brown bits at the bottom of your pan. (If you’ve got a grill, cooking your shrimp on it instead of on the stove would be a wonderful deviation).
  3. Place shrimp on top of succotash and give an additional hit of lemon, salt and pepper if necessary.  If you have fresh herbs, say basil or chives, they would be a great way to add from brightness sprinkled over the dish. Serve immediately.

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succotash & shrimps

makeshift muesli (parfait!)

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Before I talk about how wonderful and easy muesli is, let’s start with an introduction to the facts.  Bon Appétit put together this extremely eloquent breakdown on the difference between granola and muesli, and I couldn’t hope to say it better.  The short of it is this: The two share the same general ingredients; oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, etc. But where granola is baked and requires a binder like honey or butter to create its signature chunks, muesli is simply a raw and loose.  Both are typically served with milk or yogurt.  Not surprisingly granola has long been more popular in America (it tends to be sweeter, so…).

But muesli is overdue for its moment around here.  It is so easy to throw together with things from your pantry.  It has no added fats or sugars and you just feel healthier when you eat it. Trust me, I’ve done the research.

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The secret element here is toasting.  Toasting brings out the nuttiness of the nuts, the oatiness of the oats, and the toastiness of the coconut.  And like so many things it’s worth making yourself because you can control the proportions of the ingredients.  It comes together in a flash–whether done in a big batch in the oven or a quick single portion in a pan on the stove.  Throw it over cold Greek yogurt with a little maple syrup or honey and it is brilliant for breakfast or lovely for lunch.  Breakfast food for the win. Always.

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You can alter the amount of each ingredient depending on your preferences–and increase or decrease depending on how much you want to make.  These proportions will make 4 servings.

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Makeshift Muesli (parfait)

1 cup steel cut oats
1 cup nuts, chopped (I used a mix of hazelnuts, pecans, and almonds)
1/2 cup dried fruit, chopped (I had cranberries but apricots, raisins, blueberries…all strong options)
1/3 cup flaked or shredded coconut
pinch of sea salt
plain Greek yogurt & maple syrup for serving

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Spread nuts in an even layer on a cookie sheet and toast for 5 minutes.  Remove from oven and add oats and coconut to the baking sheet, stirring everything together and return to oven for an additional 3 minutes.  Watch closely to avoid burning. Remove from oven, sprinkle mix with a pinch of sea salt, and set aside to cool.
  2. Once cool, add in the dried fruit and stir to combine.  Serve over plain Greek yogurt and top with a drizzle of maple syrup and consume. Or swap in flavored yogurt, or honey, or jam. Do you.

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makeshift muesli (parfait!)